Captures Vs. Kill

As the Talking Dog says, it’s a rare day when Michael Moore and John Yoo agree with each other.

I agree with Michael Moore that the interests of history, the rule of law, truth, justice, and what used to be the American Way (I understand even Superman has given up on that) would have been far better served by taking Osama bin Laden into custody and putting him on trial. I do not entirely agree with Moore’s apparent implication (I don’t have a direct link to what he said; just the Newsbusters version of it) that killing OBL rather than capturing him was the plan all along, however.

I imagine that taking OBL out of the compound alive would have been trickier, and more dangerous to the SEALs, than just shooting him. And soldiers are not policemen, who are required to make shoot/don’t shoot judgments in ambiguous situations. As I understand it, with soldiers, unless the subject clearly and unambiguously surrenders, they’re going to kill him. That’s what they’re trained to do.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me even a little bit if we learn someday that President Obama ordered the SEALs to kill OBL rather than arrest him. A dead OBL is an achievement; a living one would soon turn into the Mother of All Bones of Political Contention. America is no longer a country that can sensibly discuss anything and come to rational decisions. If OBL were alive and in custody now, any decisions the President might make about what to do with him would be relentlessly attacked by the Right and used against him in the 2012 election. The President is a politician, after all.

Even as it is, many on the Right are doing their best to stir up animosity about killing OBL. They’re calling him a wimp for not releasing the bleeping photographs of OBL’s corpse; they’re attacking him for daring to accept credit for the raid. Note yesterday’s flap du jour, in which the Right persuaded itself that the President had ordered the removal of a flag at Ground Zero (not true) and spent much of the day worked up into a snit about it. I doubt much of this is getting traction outside of teabag world, but again, there aren’t a lot of ambiguities to exploit about a corpse. The righties certainly are being creative with what little they’ve got to exploit, though.

I can also imagine that a live OBL would have prompted the usual lunatics to publicly burn multiple effigies of him and demand a public hanging, providing lots of inflammatory videos to be aired on Middle Eastern television. There is concern that killing OBL will inspire retaliation by jihadists — like they weren’t after us, anyway — but a live one in custody might be just as inflammatory. Possibly more inflammatory, over the long run.

Yoo said that OBL should have been captured alive and used as a source of intelligence (i.e., taken to Gitmo and waterboarded; see what Krugman says about that). For a whole lot of reasons I would have turned him over to an international court for a public Nuremberg-type trial; trials and intelligence are not mutually exclusive.

Frankly, as a nation, I don’t think we would have been capable of giving OBL a fair and honest trial without tearing each other to shreds in the process. We may not even be capable of giving him a fair trial as a species. We’re not civilized enough yet, apparently.

31 thoughts on “Captures Vs. Kill

  1. I agree with Moore. Killing OBL was the plan all along. Politically there would have been no upside for the President in a live capture. Constitutionally it’s a gray area. Was it law enforcement or warfare? Execution or battle-death? Was it justice or victory? I say it was expediency.

    Terrorism exists at the boundary between crime and warfare; it’s where the civil law prevalent within states meets the jungle law prevalent between states. So neither rules apply fully, and there is no fully satisfactory course of action. Obama, ever the centrist, erred on the side of pragmatism.

    I personally would have enjoyed the raw spectacle of OBL’s show trial, but No-Drama Obama is an ice-man. OBL had to be not just killed, but also silenced and disappeared.

    Assassination is a crude tactic, and worse it is an embarrassment, for it gives the game away. Normally it’s considered bad form for a head of state to assassinate a mere criminal; and even worse form to assassinate other heads of state; but a terrorist is too big for rights and too small for privilege, and so is fair game.

    The terrorist’s worse crime is that, by existing, he demonstrates the continuity between crime and war.

    • I agree with Moore. Killing OBL was the plan all along.

      Like I said, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that were true, but it’s not something we can know for certain based on public information. Even if the SEALs had been ordered to capture him if possible and kill only if necessary, odds are OBL would have come back as a corpse anyway. Given the nature of the raid, IMO, the only way they wouldn’t have killed him is if he threw up his hands and sang the Star-Spangled Banner while wearing a T-shirt that said “Don’t Shoot Me! I Know Where Jimmy Hoffa Is Buried!”

      So I don’t appreciate the ASSUMPTION that it was an ordered assassination. Maybe it was; maybe it wasn’t.

      Assassination is a crude tactic, and worse it is an embarrassment, for it gives the game away.

      Most of the time that’s true, but I don’t think it’s true in this case. There was nothing “crude” about the raid; few other military units could have pulled it off. I don’t see anything embarrassing in that. I would have preferred a public international trial, but I don’t have a problem about OBL’s death. It’s possible some good will come of this.

  2. First, my favorite ‘release the photo’s’ cry came from Sarah Palin. “The Whore of Babblin’ On” had the audacity to tell Obama that doing that was part of “the mission.” This from an elected official who walked away from her own ‘mission’ as elected Governor half way through her first term.

    On Osama bin Laden:
    In the best of all possible worlds, or even in the US before the Bush Junta convinced people that torture was the way to go and that public trials were way too scary for the masses to take and our complicit Congress and MSM agreed, I would have preferred OBL be captured alive and brought to trial in NYC and DC.

    I have NO confidence in these stupid military tribunals/commissions providing anything resembling justice.
    Military tribunals are something Banana Republics use – and yes, I know, we’re just about there.

    Would I like to have seen OBL walk?
    Of course not!!!
    And in a fair trial, there’s be no chance of that happening if the prosecutors were at all competent with the evidence, and the presentation of it. And the whole world could have seen what we do and how we do it. We would have had to present our case to the world, who, except for the religious zealots, would have believed it. Instead, now we use secret military tribunals with who know who in charge, who knows where, and what the evidence presented is?

    I prefer what happened to the perception of sham justice that military tribunals give the appearance of giving, rightly or wrongly.

    We used to be a nation of laws.
    It’s too bad we had ignorant and craven cowards as this countries leaders at a time when we truly could have shown the world how a mature nation confident of its laws and legal structure handles something as evil and tragic as 9/11.
    Instead, our “leaders” pissed and shat themselves, started running around torturing people willy-nilly, and invading and occupying contries, all to hide their own incompetence that allowed 9/11 to happen in the first place.

    We are but a pale shadow of the nation we were before the incompetent Little Boots and the whole Bush Crime Family hijacked this country.
    And sadly, I don’t see us rebounding any time soon – if ever…

  3. Yeah. It would indeed be pretty to live in a world where OBL could have faced an international trial a la Nuremberg.

    But we can’t even manage to agree to hold fair domestic trials of less notorious terrorists anymore, much less agree to let some damn furriners participate. The United States is no longer the kind of country that worked to make Nuremberg happen, and we’ve wandered away from such quaint ideas about civilization and world humanity.

    John Yoo is, of course, an idiot. It’s not hard to imagine how much false information a “enhanced interrogation” of Osama could have produced, wasting who knows how much time and effort. Great idea, Mr. Yoo. Let’s hand Osama the ability to influence where and when we direct our attention. What could possibly go wrong with that?

    A dead Osama is enough of a political football. We sadly don’t have the maturity to try him properly. The documents and hard drives taken from the compound are probably more reliable intelligence than anything we could get him to tell us. And even without a trial, he had admitted that he had killed a lot of people, and was dedicated to killing more. Ultimately, I guess, I’m OK with them shooting him.

  4. I think you’re right on the money regarding the events and difficulties that might have occurred if OBL had been taken alive. Look at the mess we got into by giving thr Shah asylum.

    Despite this, I think if the risks and difficulty of taking him alive versus killing him had been equal they would have taken him alive. It was probably the plan with the best chance of success, and sometimes you don’t get a second chance.

  5. Yoo doesn’t know any other way.
    Look who his bosses were.
    And look at who he is.
    And that’s why he was the perfect choice for what transpired.
    Anyone with courage and ethics would have put a stop to “leadership” wanting to torture, or done whatever he/she could to let everyone know what was going on.

    After slavery, torture is the next great stain (sin) for this country.
    Those stains will never go away.

    When I look at John Yoo I see the American Adolf Eichmann – “the banality of evil…”

  6. Osama had more value dead than alive. The situation worked out to perfection and we got all the information we could have gotten from Bin Laden..I hear that his life line consisted of 500 Euros and a list of phone numbers. Those phone numbers are probably the mother lode in the effort to eradicate the real al-Qaida, not the franchises, or the Bush administration designated al-Qaida phantom.

    As far as torture’s either you get it or you don’t. I can’t articulate clearly what makes it wrong…but it’s sometime in the area of separation between us being animals or humans. It’s not only morally wrong, it’s primitive and plain stupid. And anybody who condones it has an undeveloped mind.

  7. Maha, we agree that OBL’s chances of surviving the raid were slim to none, whether or not the orders were explicitly to kill. And do note that he was not only killed but disappeared. No body, no grave, not even a photo.

    I agree that, operationally, the raid was sophisticated. But politically assassination is a crude tactic; it’s too telling.

    I also agree that some good just might come of this; partly in conventional terms (getting rid of a crime lord / insurrectionist) but also in subversive terms (exposing the crude mechanics of power).

    For good to come of this, we must think clearly. This includes attention to semantics. Bin Laden was assassinated, not executed nor killed in a fire-fight. This was not an act of law or of warfare but of espionage; it achieved not justice nor victory but expediency.

    Expediency is about as good as you can expect, in the shadowlands between law and warfare.

    • not even a photo.

      It’ll be released eventually, although probably not for a few years. There were logical reasons for a quick burial at sea; doesn’t prove anything.

      But politically assassination is a crude tactic; it’s too telling.

      If OBL were a head of state, it would have been a political assassination. He wasn’t. It wasn’t.

  8. And in the larger sense this is karmic justice. OBL was an assassin, assassinated.

  9. To George W. Bush, bin Laden had more value alive and at large, so his videotaped confessions and gloating could be used to frighten the American electorate, and distract us from Bush’s appalling malfeasance. It wasn’t at all surprising to learn that Bush called off the troops who could have captured him not long after 9/11.

    It’s those nine years of confessions and gloating that make the difference for me; there was no doubt in any reasonable mind of bin Laden’s role in mass murder, or of his attitude about it. And in those nine years, he continued to incite and plan mass violence around the world. I find it impossible to regret the way things turned out for him.

    As for war-crimes trials, I suggest Cheney and Bush as the defendants.

  10. Osama became a United States marine corpse.. The big O got fitted with a pair of cement shoes, and now he’s swimming with the fishies in Davey Jones’ locker.

  11. From what I learned working with Navy Seals back in the 70’s and 80’s, they aren’t much into taking prisioners, they are killers, and damned good ones.
    I agree with you Maha; beyond that, it’s a done deal, and I’m eager to leave the subject behind. It reeks of psy-ops , jingoism, corruption, and murder.
    Like I commented before, I hope a page in history has been turned, and my country abandons its dark side.

    On another subject, today, I attended my daughter’s Jr. college graduation; she spanked it with a 4.0, and she’s only 18!. Bonnie will hopefully be glad to hear that the graduating class was about 75% female. The war on women will never be won with stats like that. As a bleeding heart liberal, I was touched with the diversity in her class knowing that most of the graduates were the first ever in their families to get a dipolma.

  12. Pardon my stepping into conspiracy/truther space, but I think Osama knew a bit more than the leaders/owners of this country would want him to reveal, and so my feeling is there were some significant and hidden reasons for wanting him dead and not brought to trial. I simply don’t buy the official story about 9/11. Just as few believe the Warren Commission’s conclusion about Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone – most now regard him as a patsy – I’m not convinced Osama is completely and solely responsible for 9/11.

    That all said, for all the reasons you stated, Obama is far better off with Osama dead, than he would’ve been with some attempt at a trial. Further, the whole issue of war crimes would necessarily have also brought in Bush/Cheney who have yet to answer for their crimes.

  13. The Seals probably had order to kill, not capture, bin Laden. That’s fine with me.

    They did a damn fine job of making him dead. Screw John Yoo and the horse he rode in on.

  14. erinyes …Congratulations on your daughter’s graduation and her achieving a 4.0. I’m sure you and your wife are very proud, and rightly so. It’s a nice feeling to see your children succeed…I’m happy for you.

    I attended a graduation ceremony on Thursday at USF for a friend of my son’s. Of a class of 1,480 graduates only 2 achieved a 4.0…19 achieved a 3.9. The oldest graduate was a 65 year old women and the youngest was an 18 year old girl( Bachelors degree)

  15. Thanks, Doc. Long time no see.

    Barbara – Thank YOU for your Herculean/Atlas efforts. I am a first time commenter, long time reader (frequent fan since your B.Lamb “on ‘air’ op” last millenium). You have one of the highest quality products in the entire blogoshpere (Let’s talk someday re your monitizing that thang you got…).

    Anywho, I fealt I had to respond to the idea that these SEALs had to kill OBL. That is incredibly far from the truth. I know you’re old enough to recall viewing or knowing of actual police/state brutality and abuse (60/70’s, Rodney, Abu, and many x-thousands of others…).

    SEALs, although DOD, are trained to take hostages as well as kill people and other beings. US special ops have a robust history of rescue and other non-assassination missions. Our guys & gals are (high-)technically superior to their forebears, and that’s the way it should be. However, there really is no publicly reported excuse requiring OBL’s murder. Your readers might be better informed if they visited Mr. Moore’s website ( for info on his thoughts.

    I agree with you that in the current political climate, this should shield President Obama from certain attacks against his reelection. But Roger, Karl, Frank, Matt and many others can belly-bump their way around all of that. They are well practiced and dangerous.

    I think we all should keep on trying to do the right thing, not the ‘right’ thing, and I love everyone for our former freedoms – let’s take them back…

    Happy Mothers Day, Maha, and to all of your friends, too!

  16. moonbat,

    My niece also just graduated. She got her Masters in Performing Arts for her oboe playing from a world reknowned NY conservatory of music.
    Over her 6 year career, her GPA average was over 3.8. That’s something I like to think I’d have done if I wasn’t busy working 20-30 hours a week to help pay for college. And acting. And directing plays. And drinking. And partying. And chasing girls. And drinking. And partying. And chasing girls. And drinking. And partying. And chasing girls. And drinking. And partying. And chasing girls.
    Wait! I see a pattern!!!
    Hmm… I think I just realized why I came closer to a 3.0 than a 4.0.
    Oh well…

  17. Thanks, guys.
    Congrats to your niece, ‘Gulag!
    Kids these days are under more pressure than we ever had.
    My daughter will be leaving in August for college, mom will be a basket case……

  18. Note, Yoo was the guy who said that the president (bush) can do anything the Constitution does not forbid him to do, so shut-up, Yoo, the president did just that when ordered binLaden taken dead.

    As to the International Criminal Court. We’re out of it. (Bush ‘ditched’ Kyoto, Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty, Germ Warfare Protocol, Biological Weapons Convention, Comprehensive Test-ban Treaty, International Criminal Court, Land Mine Treaty…) In other words, Bush set himself up as the Decider in all things domestic and foreign.

    (I continue to be amazed that the presidency of Bush, 8 years that may have done permanent damage to this nation forever, has been passed over like it never existed, and if it did, it had little if any affect on our ultimate destiny.)

  19. Felicity…You forgot to mention that Bush tossed the Geneva Convention in the garbage pail also. Well, maybe you didn’t forget…probably just to many stupid decisions from Bush to list without seeming like you’re picking on him for his stupidity.

  20. In my humble undersea community, there is a controversy raging about whether it was best to kill bin Laden or capture him for trial. I’ve stayed away from these discussions – seeing merit in both sides of the argument and a reflection of my own ambivalence. Given a choice between performing seals versus kangaroos holding court, perhaps this is the final irony fit for our times: Carp got the last of bin Laden.

  21. Congratulations to the graduates! I was thinking how much easier it was to be 18 in 1975…. I hope the young folk have bright futures.

  22. Interesting tidbit from the Newsbusters link:

    But Moore didn’t let the fears of the majority of Americans get in his way while hitting Obama from the left.

    See, here’s the thing. Either trying people in court is the right thing to do, or it’s not.

    We’ve always agreed that it is; I’ve heard no arguments that it’s not, other than the pragmatic “but we *can’t*” – where “we can’t” means that the Bushies tainted the criminal case beyond repair.

    Now: what do you call a person who knows the right thing to do, but doesn’t do it out of fear?

    The answer is not a kind one, but it’s true: a coward.

    The author of that piece is literally embracing cowardice as a virtue.

  23. Well, when George Bush made the pronouncement that Osama Bin Laden was wanted “Dead or Alive” He had already passed judgement on Osama’s guilt and death was to be the penalty. There should be discussion whether Osama got a trial or not because when Bush declares it… it’s legal. Bush found Osama guilty, so no need for a meaningless trial..period!

  24. First and foremost I want to say I am glad Obama was able to clean up the mess bush left behind..and I can’t beam with enough pride for America’s Seals(the OG’S of clean up crews)..Those young men have reached super stud status with me and I find myself wondering how they fit into pants with all those balls! I bet it is hard for those THERE not to disclose their part to the world..can you say instant rock star status?
    That said, I don’t have a problem with the killing of bin laden.I think any trial held would have been a venue for him to spew more crap into the universe. IMHO that sub human HAD his say on 9-11 and we had ours.
    I think back to the images of that day – beautiful innocent people who were so full of life jumping out windows to their own death. Being FAIR ended on that day for me and I assume MOST thinking people understood bin laden probably would not have allowed anyone to take him alive AND that if we found him death was sure to be- fall him.
    But here is where I object..however I want to be clear that I disagree with Obama on this point given the limited facts I have, understanding he may have more and given that he IS smarter than I (not to sell myself short)..I respect the choice he made , but I don’t like it one little bit…The photos.And here are my reasons: Obama acted, our seals acted in our name(America) On behalf of “We the people”..I think we should SEE what was done in our name..Despite my personal lack of worth for that sub human piece of shit(bin laden),it was still a very very serious thing done in MY me that is as personal as every single life lost on 911 and every tear shead as a result. I don’t get my jolly’s looking at photos of graphic violence – I am not looking for closure or some satisfaction at seeing him dead, even though I expect there would be those who might find those things.
    After what we saw on 911, the images of a dead sadam and sons I think we can all handle whatever the photos show. The Arab world has a new face in the recent months as place after place struggles with their own desire to have a voice and it is beautiful! There is no longer a need for bin ladens crap, it’s played out..instead PEOPLE are rising up to create change and I think photos of a dead bin laden could be a “poster child” of sorts for a new, better way to infect change.
    Those who would be inflamed by such photos already wanted to attack us before and I have no doubt this is still a very dangerous world..but the stronger the voice of the people gets, the less anyone has use for the message bin laden and his ilk deliver. They are drowned out by real solutions(like those we have witnessed in the past months.
    Also there will be those, on all sides screaming , at some point, “He’s not dead” happened with Elvis,Biggie(RIP) , Tupak..but this is a different world! Now we have tea baggers who have seen the birth certificate and STILL don’t’s only a matter of time before a nut drops off that tree..we have glenn beck who may someday decide Soros funded bin ladens compound and is now letting him camp out at his place till acorn can find him a place. We have a entire Mid East who has decades of reasons not to believe a damn thing we say. We are one fake “bin laden tape” away from a major freak out..I mean did anyone in abbottabad even see anything?? Do I need to go on because the list of potential “I don’t believe it” groups that could be fanned into a wildfire from a spark seems to, in my head, out weigh just releasing the damn photos that will most likely be released anyhow.– but perhaps Obama has the right idea…give the simple minded something to keep them busy for a few years while adults get the work done.
    I myself would like to see the raid, the death taking place, the after math and the prep and trip into the water. And in our cash strapped times with federal and state purses tight I think it should be shown , pay per view to cover SOME expense..whether it be to fund the action itself or to increase services to Vets and families or split with the states for Vets causes. Thats my idea of “Must see TV!”

  25. I have to disagree that a trial is inherently good. In cases where there is some ambiguity about the guilt or innocence of an individual, we should research and debate get a look at the truth.

    In this case, there are few people who really believe OBL was not a major player in 9/11 and other murderous adventures. A trial would be an unethical waste of resources and time, that might actually be better spent on individuals in more ambiguous positions.

    In other words, mocking up some “justice” or “due process” for OBL obstructs justice and due process for others.

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